Who is Damo Mitchell?
“This is a brief training history of Damo Mitchell, technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong International School as well as the founder of The Internal Arts Academy and the Xian Tian College of Medicine.”
Damo Mitchell was born with two very conflicting feelings – firstly, he was struck by the wonder and fun of the world and secondly, he felt a deep discomfort at its nature. This seemingly contradictory take on existence made for periods of difficulty in his youth and teenage years which led to emotional highs and lows. Periods of deep love and kindness contrasted with lows of hatred and rage at the larger world.
Born with an innate need for knowledge, Damo found the structure of a school education inadequate for his needs. Too much a system of control and too little a vehicle for personal growth, he abandoned conventional education and instead threw himself into a study of the classical martial arts of Asia. Early experiences of ‘accidentally’ entering into meditative states as a child had given him a glimpse of what was possible and this is what first drew his mind onto the path. Unfortunately, those early chances at ‘glimpsing behind the curtain’ were lost to him as his mind played out an internal battle between what he intuitively knew he should do and the conflicting states his Heart gravitated towards.
Damo had been born into a family of practitioners; both of his parents were seekers themselves and the Japanese fighting styles, as well as Zen philosophy, has helped them in their own lives of personal difficulty. From age four, Damo had been thrown into the martial arts, a scary place of sweaty, shouting men and stamping feet. Throughout his childhood, the discipline of the training had helped to a certain degree but the deep feelings of fear and inadequacy he had felt were fuelled by the difficulty of combative training. It was only in his teens that something switched around within him and the arts began to work on a deeper level. Self-discipline started to arise, fears started to fade and the path began to open up as it was designed to. Though there was still a feeling of deep-seated rage at the state of the world, things were starting to change for the better. Martial arts training continued in this fashion with Damo’s developmental years spent in Karate, Kendo, Laido, Aikido, Northern Shaolin systems, Wing Chun and others. The martial arts became an obsession and this obsession took him to many of the greatest masters in Europe, South East Asia and China. Damo’s travels took him across the planet for many years; sacrificing a normal life-path, his friends, a marriage and more, Damo continued to travel extensively and study with both well-known and more ‘underground’ masters of various styles.
Alongside the more obviously combative arts, Damo was drawn towards the internal arts of China; a fascinating merger of Gong Fu, spirituality and medicine, arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan perfectly suited his nature. The external systems started to fall away with regards to their importance and the internal arts came to the fore. A number of chance encounters with great masters helped to dissolve that last part of his nature that liked destruction and conflict and, for the first time, Damo experienced the fully transformative potential of classical training. All of the things he had read about for so many years finally became a reality and the door of internal training was finally unlocked. Damo recalls falling to his knees and weeping in gratitude back in his small hotel room after one particularly transformative session where the final tethers of his rage dropped away. The weight of personal entrapment had been lifted and there was no going back on this path now.
With the biggest emotional hurdle gone, Damo could finally access the deeper parts of meditative training. What had, for years, been only awareness of breath and basic-level absorption started to transform and the Jhana states of meditative teachings were made available to him. More time was spent in China, South East Asia and various parts of India, exploring the Buddhist, alchemical and Yogic teachings of the meditation masters. The alchemy of the Northern Daoist traditions most suited Damo’s temperament and logical mind and so, for many years, this was the mainstay of his practice although the Buddhist and Hindu teachings always sat there at the peripheries of his mind, feeding his awareness with their wisdom.
For a long time, Damo kept his teachings to a very basic level. Clearly teaching the foundation principles of Gong Fu and Qi Gong were the basis of what he did. He stayed away from teaching deeper spiritual work and meditation for a long time, although he had been involved in these fields for many years, he felt the gravity of responsibility for teaching at this level. Inner work of this type was approached with great respect and only after many years of teaching more foundational work did Damo feel that he had enough of a grasp of the inner workings of spirit that it was appropriate for him to go down this route.
Despite the consistent encouragement of his own masters, Damo held off on moving deeper in his teachings until the time felt right for him. By this stage he was initiated into several traditions, though now he focuses primarily on representing teachings from within the Northern Daoists sects and an esoteric line of Chinese Buddhism. Whereas these are the main threads that contain the methodology of his teachings, Damo is comfortable utilising analogies and stories from within spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Christianity to help clarify his instructions. With a combination of insight into ancient teachings and an irreverent sense of humour, Damo will use whatever tools are most appropriate to help guide those he teaches towards their own inner mastery.
Damo approaches the blessing and responsibility of teaching with a sense of great gratitude for those who entrust even a small sliver of their personal path to him and this underpins the way he approaches giving guidance to fellow travellers along the way. Through a combination of practical methods, theoretical guidance and direct transmission, Damo wishes to share openly to those who are sincere of Heart.
Though the ‘tool’ used within the school are arts such as Qi Gong, Nei Gong and Taijiquan, Damo’s ultimate aim is personal liberation from inner conflict and freedom to experience the true sense-of-self that sits at the heart of each of us. Neither competition nor combat are important to him in his teachings, everything is simply a vehicle for awakening. To those who have walked the path to a certain point, is there really anything else they should concern themselves with in their practice?
In 1984, Damo began his studies in traditional Karate with his parents. The practice of Karate was Damo’s focus for many years with training that included empty handed work, weapons training and the associated aspects of Zen Buddhism. As well as his parents, Damo studied with Sensei’s such as Yoshinobu Ohta and Kenosuke Enoeda as a part of their organisation. Further Japanese studies included Aikido, Kendo and Iaido under Sensei Yamada and through the arts of Japan, Damo developed a training ethos and level of self-discipline that would prove useful in his future exploration of the arts of Asia.
As well as his studies of Japanese external martial arts, Damo has also spent time learning the Gong Fu methods that have their roots at the Shaolin temple of China. He has spent periods of time in Wushu schools in Shandong province, Chengdu and Yangshuo. He has studied Wing Chun in the West, qualifying to teacher status in the Yip Man lineage and also spending time training in Hong Kong. In Beijing, Damo learnt Chinese wrestling or Shuai Jiao as well as San Da fighting, these studies were furthered in Shandong province with coach Peng and a few other teachers. These practices, along with a solid grounding in Chang Quan, are no longer a major aspect of Damo’s training but he has taken their influence and combined them with the western boxing, wrestling and ground fighting he has studied to understand Gong Fu as a whole. These days, Damo does not primarily focus on fighting methods in his teachings though many of his students use his methods and expertise to help develop their own fighting skills.
Through a combination of Japanese, Chinese and Western combative arts, Damo has developed a rounded understanding of martial arts and fighting in general.
Since age 14, one of Damo’s greatest loves has been the art of Taijiquan (Tai Chi). It was the lineage of Zheng Manqing (Chen Man Ching) that initiated Damo’s practice of Taiji and once again these studies were initially under his father, Paul Mitchell, and uncle, Phil James, who was a long time student within the Zheng Manqing system as well as being a close student of the Taiji and internal force master – Shen Hongxun. Taijiquan immediately captivated Damo and so he began to focus his efforts onto the internal arts. After a number of years with his family, Shen Hongxun and his daughter Shen Jin, Damo decided to explore further. At this stage, he realised that he needed to head into Asia to seek the root of these arts. What was supposed to be a simple six month trip to China turned into over a decade of travel through China, South East Asia and other parts of the Far East in search of authentic masters who could help him unlock the mysteries of these practices. The Zheng Manqing system of Taiji was further enriched by study of Huang Xingxian’s method with various teachers in South East Asia and the Yang family systems in China with master Hao.
To further understand the enigmatic art of Taijiquan, Damo also travelled to Chenjiagou in Henan province. After a short stay here, it was decided that Chen family Taijiquan was not really what Damo was after but fortunately he had made contact with master Ni Yuanhai and this led him into the Hunyuan Taiji system of Feng Zhiqiang. For a number of years Damo learn the Hunyuan system from master Ni, Feng himself (though to a far lesser degree) and other teachers of the style such as Qi Zhaoling and Chen Xiu. Possibly one of the greatest boons of this particular system was the Hunyuan Qi Gong that is taught as a part of the tradition; this effective Qi Gong set became a mainstay of Damo’s practice for a long time.
If we were to select two key qualities that traditional Taijiquan excelled at teaching, it would be release (Yin) and conscious absorption (Yang). When these two qualities are applied in the correct manner, mobilisation of the inner force (Jin) is achieved. In this way, Taijiquan uses a combination of bodily development, mental training and internal mechanics to teach the inter-play of Yin and Yang, the great philosophical tenet of Daoism.
The final aspects of Taiji that Damo then explored were to be found high in the mountains of China. Initially these studies were in the Wudang mountain ranges where Damo learnt Taijiquan and other internal arts from within the San Feng and Xuan Wu lines of practice. Though interesting, and the mountain setting ideal, Damo moved away from these methods when he encountered the Taiji of the Long Men Pai and instead learnt this system from master Guan who was an accomplished Chinese medical practitioner and calligrapher as well as a master of Taiji.
Within his school of Lotus Nei Gong, Damo now teaches primarily the Yang system of Taijiquan from within the Huang Xingxian method to new students. More advanced practitioners progress into the Zhaolin methods whilst only close students have the option of learning the Hunyuan system due to the painstaking amount of time it can take to teach the style. The other systems of Taijiquan that Damo studied in China have since faded from his practice and only serve to have influenced the internal mechanics present within his own body. Damo now focuses on the Yang systems with an emphasis upon health preservation and self-cultivation.
After exploring Beijing’s parks and training for periods of a few weeks at a time with various Bagua masters, Damo decided to study solely with master Wang Haitao and from this teacher he learnt the Cheng system as well as Hebei Xingyiquan which was used as a ‘support system’ for the study of Baguazhang. There was a lot of study of the Wu Xing methods of Xingyi as well as the circle walking and single palm change mechanics of Bagua in order to help Damo understand the internal side of the system; the outer frame was already fairly efficient but master Wang helped to put the ‘engine’ into what he was doing. Further studies of these two styles were undertaken with Hao Nanren and several masters in Taiwan where the ‘cousin’ to Cheng, Gao, is a widely taught method.
Damo had also studied the Xian Tian Bagua circle walking methods of the Daoist alchemists and these were implemented into Damo’s practice as well to bridge the gap between Nei Gong training and martial arts. Since these practices were said to be the root of the martial system of Baguazhang, it seemed only natural for these to become a part of Damo’s Baguazhang training. For this reason, students within Lotus Nei Gong study the circle walking methods of Bagua prior to forms and other drills.
The teachers listed here the key people involved in the development of the system taught within the Lotus Nei Gong International School. As well as this, there are also many other masters, teachers and martial arts peers who have contributed greatly to Damo’s understanding and practice of the arts. It has been over three decades of study, travel and exploration for Damo and as such, he has met hundreds of highly skilled practitioners globally. Though they have been a great influence, Damo has not trained extensively enough with any of these other people to be considered one of their students and so they are not included in this brief biography. Despite their omission, Damo would like to express his unlimited gratitude for the important role they have played in his personal development.
The Spiritual Path
Damo’s earliest explorations of meditation were within the Buddhist tradition. He first encountered the teachings of Zen within his Japanese martial arts classes and so studied Zazen practice for a number of years. Though initially not so interested in meditation, it seemed to Damo that every martial arts master he went to seemed to place great importance upon meditation! Thinking there may be something in this, Damo moved into Chan (the Chinese equivalent of Zen) and began to enter into week long retreats with teachers in Europe. These retreats then expanded to include Tibetan Buddhism and gradually Damo began to incorporate meditation into his life. Entering into it with the same dedication that he did martial arts, meditation has now been an important of Damo’s daily practice for over two decades.
When Damo headed into Asia he located the school of Daoist master Hu Xuezhi and undertook two prolonged retreats with him in the mountains of China. This was an introduction to the methods of Nei Dan, or ‘internal alchemy’; an introduction that caused Damo to seek out further instruction in these rare meditation methods. Master Wang Haitao and Master Guan took Damo further into these practices along with various Daoist Qi Gong and Nei Gong methods which finally helped him to begin understanding the classical teachings of Qi Gong and energetic work. Though Damo had already developed a strong background in standing and moving Qi Gong practices, it was his encounter with alchemy and the processes of Nei Gong that really brought home the possibilities of this kind of training. During this period of his life, Damo was transitioning between Taijiquan and Daoist practice in China and Theravadan Buddhist study within the temples of Thailand. For those not familiar with life in China, it can be a fun but tiring place to be! Thailand became something of a ‘resting place’ between intensive training trips to China and it was for this reason that Thailand was the closest thing Damo had to a home for a long time.
Interestingly, it was here, at this time that Damo returned to Wudang mountain and other mountains such as Hua Shan and Qingchen Shan. Though not studying with any teachers from these mountains (at that time) Damo would visit them with his teachers so that they may train in the temples. A love of mountains was fostered in Damo and so he entered into several self-directed retreats within the mountains of China, Vietnam and the forests of Northern Thailand and it was here, during these lone retreats, that Damo began to make the biggest leaps in his understanding of Eastern meditation methods. The time with teachers provided instruction and correction, the self-directed retreats were where these teachings were extrapolated and unfolded within Damo.
Qi Gong and Nei Gong practice has been a mainstay of Damo’s practice since the very beginnings of his journey onto the internal path. Every authentic teacher of the internal arts that he encountered practiced some form of Qi Gong or Nei Gong and all agreed that it was here, in these practices, that the root to real internal development lie.
Initially beginning with medical Qi Gong in the West, Damo moved into more transformative forms of energy work with Shen Hongxun and his organisation before discovering alchemical-type Nei Gong with masters Wang and Hao in China. The Hunyuan Qi Gong work of master Ni assisted in the internal process and further unfolding took place due to integration of qualities developed through prolonged meditation practice. The development he made during this time was helped greatly by the fact that he could focus solely on his training whilst spending a great deal of time away from ‘everyday life’ in China and Thailand.
At the current time, Damo continues his practice of Nei Gong within three distinct lines of training. For the time-being Damo wishes to keep these lines and the teachers involved to himself. One teacher wishes to remain anonymous – this is quite normal for Daoist teachers, especially those who do not wish to teach publicly any more! Newer students progress through the public system of Nei Gong based in the Quan Zhen traditions whilst seniors study from within deeper and more challenging lines of this internal process.
Damo is classically initiated into the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage of Daoism as well another Quanzhen branch of the tradition. He is also initiated into a line of esoteric Chan Buddhist practice and this line also influences his teachings.
Damo Mitchell is also an author of ten books on the subjects of Daoism and the internal arts. Many of these titles are published through the Singing Dragon publishing house. His books have sold thousands of copies worldwide and they have been translated into Spanish, Russian, Estonian, Czech and Hungarian. He is also the host of the Scholar Sage Podcast and runs a popular Youtube channel which looks at Daoism, Chinese medicine and other topics related to the internal arts.
Damo is the technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong International School, the head of the Xian Tian College of Chinese Medicine and the founder of the Internal Arts Academy. He has taught in countries around the world and is a highly popular teacher due to his ability to make complex eastern concepts clear enough to understand and for the ability to bring clear results to those engaging with his teaching methods.